So a quick confession to make: I’ve never been the biggest fan of contemporary YA. I think it’s because I tried to start with John Green, and while he’s incredibly popular, I found his books a little too heavy, too emotionally draining. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m in the mood for that, but my perfect YA contemporary is a fluffy light romance with some quirky characters and lots of laugh out loud lines.
Recently, my poison of choice has been books based at comic-cons. I stumbled across Geekerella by Ashley Poston a while back, and it was perfect, pretty much exactly what I wanted from a book. From there, I moved on to Maggie Harcourt’s Unconventional (motivated by the 99p kindle deal and the knowledge that she’d be at YALC this year) and I loved that one too (if you like Queens of Geek you ABSOLUTELY should check this one out). But I think Queens of Geek has stolen my heart. I hadn’t actually heard anything online about it until it caught my eye on Amazon, but the premise sounded so good. If you haven’t heard it before, here it is in full:
When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.
Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
So the book is told from two POVs; Charlie and Taylor. Charlie appears confident, and she’s a rising YouTube star and actress. She’s funny and cool and just a riot to read, and Wilde does a good job of making her voice distinctive from Taylor’s, even if we do get the name at the top of the chapter to clarify.
“Me. The girl geek from the suburbs of Melbourne. The youngest daughter of Chinese immigrants. The only openly bi kid at school. The drama freak that makes vlogs in her bedroom. I’m the hero.”
I think what Queens of Geek does best is shows how individuality doesn’t have to be something others consider ‘cool’. The overarching message of the book seems to be that being yourself is amazing, and you shouldn’t be concerned what other people think. And while this is not the first book about geekiness at cons [see the above recommendations] Wilde does do a brilliant job at infusing her book with lots of humour and a diverse set of characters. And she managed this in a way which doesn’t once appear to be tokenism. Charlie is bi, and a lot of the story focuses on that, but she’s also a whole developed character, and at no point did I think the author had decided she should be bi to attract readers to the book.
Same with Taylor, the other main character, who happens to be an ‘aspie girl.’ She struggles quite a bit throughout the book to deal with her anxiety regarding crowds, and a lot of other issues that pop up, but Wilde has created a strong, funny, quirky and brave character who sometimes has to cope with more stress. Wilde doesn’t downplay Taylor’s Asperger’s, and unlike some books I’ve read, her anxieties don’t simply drop away as though a magic wand is waved at the end of the novel, but that seems right to me. The book is more about how being at comic-con allows people to explore their individuality, develop their self-confidence, and embrace the nerdy bonds that are created when waiting in lines and browsing stands. There’s a ton of pop-culture references in there, everything from Star Wars to popular vlog nods, and for anyone who as ever been to a convention, this is just as it should be. Having recently got back from YALC, I felt as though I was doing it all over again, all the excitement and squealing and delight. Perhaps that’s what was so appealing to me, the chance to relive the best moments until the next time I get to be there in person.
Another thing I really loved, was how brilliantly feminist the book turned out to be. I was expecting it, to some extent, with a title such as this, but even so it pleasantly surprised me. A lot of the issues discussed concern things such as ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘fat-shaming.’ At one point, someone insults Taylor because she isn’t ‘thin’ enough for the cosplay she’s wearing, and the book is quick to point out the damage such malicious comments cause. Earlier too, one of the girls [I think maybe Taylor] thinks something bad about a girl because she’s wearing something short, and then immediately feels bad because she knows it is wrong to call someone out, simply because their manner of dress is different to what she would wear herself. I’ve heard lots of the same sly little comments about someone’s weight or figure when they’re wearing cosplay, and it is never acceptable. Queens of Geek seeks to open up a lot of debate about this problem in our culture, one which definitely feels like it needs to be addressed.
Of course Queens of Geek isn’t perfect. No book is. There are times when the writing seems a bit cheesy, and there’s a lot of plot that can be predicted within the first five pages. I’ve heard a few reviewers complain too that Jamie [the one part of the trio that doesn’t get his own POV] isn’t so well-developed as Taylor and Charlie. It’s a valid point; he seems to fall a bit to the trope of best-friend syndrome. He’s there to support Taylor, and to make jokes, and to flirt, but beyond that we never really find out what he wants or is interested in. Of course, that might be because we don’t have his POV like we do with Taylor and Charlie, but maybe it would have added another interesting layer to the plot. The book is quite short and sweet, and I think maybe adding more Jamie might have been a good way to flesh it out. Although, maybe I’m wrong. I just didn’t want the book to end. There were just too many moments where I was screaming into a pillow with joy, or punching the air in delight, and I was a bit stunned when I reached the end and yearned for more. If anyone has any other con-based books they’d like to recommend, I’d be more than happy to give them a try.
Even though it wasn’t exactly perfect, I give Queens of Geek a 9.5/10.